Area Codes -- The country code for Hungary is 36. All telephone numbers in this guide are listed with the city code/telephone number. The area code for Budapest is 1.
Automobile Organizations -- The Hungarian Auto Club (Magyar Autóklub) operates a 24-hour free emergency breakdown service: Call tel. 188 (note, however, that not all operators speak English).
The Autóklub also has an International Aid Service Center, at II. Rómer Flóris u. 4/a (tel. 1/345-1744), which was established specifically for international motorists; however, our attempts to get assistance with information were a bit frustrating. Stay on the line, you will be connected. Services provided include emergency aid, towing, and technical advice, but the center may refer you to the rental company first, which in turn may have to make the contact with the auto club.
Business Hours -- Most stores are open Monday through Friday from 10am to 6pm and Saturday from 10am to 2pm with a few closing earlier at 1pm. The majority of stores are closed Sunday, except those in central tourist areas or malls. Very few shop owners and restaurateurs close for 2 weeks in August. On weekdays, food stores open early, at around 6 or 7am, and close around 6 or 7pm. Convenience stores, called "nonstops," are open 24 hours and just about every neighborhood has one.
Banks in general are open Monday through Friday from 8am to 4pm. Some banks open a half-hour later on some days, but stay open an hour later that day too. There is no shortage of banking services or automatic teller machines (ATMs) in the city.
Drinking Laws -- The legal drinking age in Hungary is 18. Beer, wine, and hard alcohol are sold everywhere including grocery stores, nonstop convenience stores, and even some discount stores. A few neighborhoods within different districts have started to stop the sales of alcohol at 11pm for nonstop stores, which are the only outlets open at that hour, aside from bars and clubs. This is a district-regulated law and is not city-wide; sometimes it is only within a particular neighborhood within a district. Bars do not have legally mandated closing times, but they may have to close outside seating in warm weather and move patrons inside to keep the noise down. Don't be surprised if a bar is still open at 5am.
Although it is not uncommon to see people drinking alcohol on public transportation in the late evenings, it is illegal if caught. Drinking on the street is also, but that is totally ignored, unless someone is causing a disturbance. Don't carry open containers of alcohol in your vehicle. Don't even think about driving after having had a drink -- Hungary has a zero-tolerance law for drunk drivers and this is strictly enforced if you're stopped.
Electricity -- With the exception of the U.K., Hungary as the rest of Europe has the same double round prongs on their plugs. Electric is 220 to 240 volts AC (50 cycles) as in most of Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. For most things electrical, all you will need is an adapter to fit into the wall outlet. Adapters are easily found in any electric or most computer stores. For the most part, converters that change 110-120 volts to 220-240 volts are impossible to find, so bring one with you.
Embassies & Consulates -- The Australian Embassy is at XII. Királyhágó tér 8-9 (tel. 1/457-9777). The Canadian Embassy is at II. Ganz u. 12-14 (tel. 1/392-3360). The Republic of Ireland Embassy is at V. Szabadság tér 7 (tel. 1/301-4960); the United Kingdom Embassy is at V. Harmincad u. 6 (tel. 1/266-2888); and the United States Embassy is at V. Szabadság tér 12 (tel. 1/475-4400). New Zealand does not have an embassy in Budapest, but the U.K. Embassy can handle matters for New Zealand citizens.
Emergencies -- The general emergency number in Europe is tel. 112. Dial tel. 104 for an ambulance, tel. 105 for the fire department, tel. 107 for the police, and tel. 188 for car breakdown service. tel. 1/438-8080 is a 24-hour hotline in English for reporting crime.
Gasoline (Petrol) -- Taxes are already included in printed prices at the pump. Prices may be shocking, but remember 3.8 liters equals one U.S. gallon.
Holidays -- Banks, government offices, post offices, most stores, some restaurants, and some museums are closed on the following legal national holidays: January 1 (New Year's Day), March 15 (Anniversary of 1848 uprising against the Austrian rule), Easter and Easter Monday (dates change annually), May 1 (Labor Day), Whit Monday (date changes annually), August 20 (Feast of St. Stephen), October 26 (Anniversary of the 1956 Revolution), November 1 (All Saints' Day, December 24 (stores close half day), December 25 (Christmas) and December 26 (Boxing Day).
Insurance -- It's always a good idea to have travel cancellation insurance, but especially so with the volatile state of some airlines. Travelers should contact their medical insurance carrier to see what their policy is for out-of-country medical expenses. U.S. travelers should note that Medicare does not provide any coverage outside of the U.S.
Travelers from the U.K. and the Republic of Ireland should carry their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which replaced the E111 form as proof of entitlement to free/reduced-cost medical treatment abroad. (www.ehic.org.uk/www.ehic.ie). Note, that the EHIC only covers "necessary medical treatment" and for repatriation costs, lost money, baggage, or cancellation, travel insurance should always be sought.
For information on travelers' insurance, trip cancellation insurance, and medical insurance while traveling please visit www.frommers.com/planning.
Internet Access -- Most hotels now provide free Wi-Fi access. Outside of the hotel, you will find dozens of places where one drink will allow you to stay as long as you want to crawl the web. Look for Wi-Fi signs on windows, doors, and standing signs outside doors of cafes, restaurants, and bookstores.
Language -- You will find more people who speak English in Budapest than you will in the outer regions. My rule of thumb on the streets is to ask a young person. Most young people will speak some English, although they may not be fluent. For basic survival Hungarian, see Useful Terms & Phrases in the back of the book.
Laundromats -- Finding a Laundromat is close to impossible, since every home has their own machines. There is a service in Budapest, but it is not self-serve. You leave your clothes and return for them later. It is simply named Landromat-Mosómata in district VI at 24-26 Ó utca, (tel. 06-20-392-5702). The hours are Monday to Friday 9am to 7pm and weekends 10am to 4pm. Washing, drying, and folding will run 1,800 Ft for up to 9kg (20 lbs). Ironing is available for an extra charge. For dry cleaning services, look for Tiszta Kék at VII. Rákóczi út 2, (tel. 1/266-2379). Their hours are Monday to Friday 7am to 7pm and Saturday 8am to 2pm.
Legal Aid -- International visitors should contact their embassy or consulate as soon as possible. If an officer insists on a fine being paid immediately while on a highway, ask for a receipt to show the fine was paid to avoid problems later, especially if you have rented a car. If you have a minor traffic accident, generally the police will not get involved unless it is insisted upon. People generally just exchange insurance information.
Mail -- The postal system is not the most efficient or honest, so take great care with sending or receiving packages. Even letters mailed "Registered with a Return Receipt Requested" card have not made it to their destination without issues. Most post offices are open Monday through Friday from 8am to 6pm; however, with the current state of the economy, many have or will be shortening their hours on an office-by-office situation. Sending postcards to the U.K. or Ireland is 210 Ft, while Australia, Canada, New Zealand, or the U.S. is 230 Ft. Mailing a letter under 20 gm to the UK is 270 Ft, but Australia, Canada, New Zealand, or the U.S. are all 300 Ft. For packages, note there is a high percentage rate that never arrive at their destination, so I would avoid it at any cost. FedEx or UPS are prohibitively expensive for even sending a document. For example, sending a letter to the U.S. can cost over 5,000 Ft.
Newspapers & Magazines -- For local news or magazines in English, you can find The Budapest Times at most large newsstands or your hotel. Funzine, Where, and Time Out magazines are available at hotels, restaurants, or the Tourinform offices.
Passports -- For information, please contact the following agencies:
For Residents of Australia -- Contact the Australian Passport Information Service at tel. 131-232, or visit the government website at www.passports.gov.au.
For Residents of Canada -- Contact the central Passport Office, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Ottawa, ON K1A 0G3 (tel. 800/567-6868; www.ppt.gc.ca).
For Residents of Ireland -- Contact the Passport Office, Setanta Centre, Molesworth Street, Dublin 2 (tel. 01/671-1633; www.irlgov.ie/iveagh).
For Residents of New Zealand -- Contact the Passport Office at tel. 0800/225-050 or tel. 04/474-8100, or log on to www.passports.govt.nz.
For Residents of the United Kingdom -- Visit your nearest passport office, major post office, or travel agency or contact the United Kingdom Passport Service at tel. 0870/521-0410 or search its website at www.ukpa.gov.uk.
For Residents of the United States -- To find your regional passport office, either check the U.S. State Department website or call the National Passport Information Center toll-free number (tel. 877/487-2778) for automated information.
Police -- Dial (tel.) 107 or general emergency dial tel. 112.
Smoking -- You will find most hotels and restaurants accommodate both smoking and nonsmoking guests. It is not legal to smoke on public transportation or in shops. Cigarettes are a fairtrade item meaning a pack of a particular brand, size, and blend will be the same price everywhere in the country.
Taxes -- Hungary has a value-added tax (VAT) on everything, but the rate depends on the service or product. Hotel VAT is now 18% and VAT on goods in shops is 20%. When you are shopping the VAT is included in the posted price. However, some stores will break it down showing a "netto" and "brutto" price. You want to pay attention to the brutto, as this is what you will pay at the register.
Telephones -- Many convenience stores, kiosks, and Internet cafes sell prepaid calling cards in denominations up to 5,000 Ft; for international visitors these can be the least expensive way to call home. Many public pay phones are not properly serviced, but most require the use of a specific pay phone calling card also available as above.
Time -- Hungary is in the Central European Time zone. This is the same time zone for all of Western Europe, with the exception of the U.K. It is 1 hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time, except during daylight saving time. Hungary is 6 hours ahead of New York City and 9 hours ahead of San Francisco.
Daylight saving time is in effect from 2am on the last Sunday in March to 2am on the last Sunday in October. Daylight saving time moves the clock 1 hour ahead of standard time.
Tipping -- In hotels, tip bellhops at least 500 Ft per bag (750-1,000 Ft if you have a lot of luggage) and tip the chamber staff 500 Ft per day (more if you've left a disaster area for him or her to clean up). Tip the concierge only if he or she has provided you with some specific service (for example, calling a cab for you or obtaining difficult-to-get theater tickets). Tip the valet-parking attendant 500 Ft every time you get your car.
In restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, tip service staff and bartenders 10-15% of the check, and tip valet-parking attendants 500 Ft per vehicle.
As for other service personnel, tip cab drivers 10% of the fare and tip hairdressers and barbers 10-15%.
Toilets -- In some areas, you will find public toilets on the streets. You will be required to pay the attendant to use the facility. Keep small change handy as it can cost from 50 Ft to 100 Ft. Because they are attended, safety is not a concern, but have extra paper with you -- what they provide is minimal. If you think you can run into a fast-food restaurant, be prepared as they will charge unless you have ordered food. Your receipt is your admission ticket, but only good for one person. Split your order for more receipts. Other facilities are found in hotel lobbies if you hunt for them, bars, restaurants, museums, railway and bus stations. Some full-menu restaurants, cafes, and bars reserve their restrooms for patrons.
Visas -- British and Irish nationals can visit Hungary as a tourist without a visa. Visitors from Australia, the U.S., Canada, and New Zealand may visit for 90 days as a tourist without a visa.
Note that in 2009, the Hungarian government announced it would be closing four embassies and a large number of missions, though the final list was not available at the time of this writing. Check this government website for current information: www.mfa.gov.hu/kum/en/bal/missions/missions_abroad/.
Australian and New Zealand citizens can obtain up-to-date visa information from the Hungary Embassy, Canberra, 17 Beale Crescent Deakin, ACT 2600 (tel. 6282/2555). The embassy website is www.mfa.gov.hu/emb/canberra.
In Sydney, the Consulate General's office is at Edgecliff Centre 203-233, Suite 405, New South Head Road (tel. 9328-7859) or check the consulate's website at www.mfa.gov.hu/cons/sydney.
British subjects can obtain up-to-date information from the Hungarian Embassy at 35 Eaton Place, London SW1X 8BY (tel. 020/7201-34-40; www.mfa.gov.hu/kulkepviselet/UK/en/mainpage.htm).
Irish citizens can obtain up-to-date information through the Hungarian Embassy, 2 Fitzwilliam Place, Dublin 2, Ireland (tel. 01/661-2902, 661-2903; www.mfa.gov.hu/emb/dublin).
Visitor Information -- Tourinform office locations in Budapest and other cities are provided elsewhere, but the main websites are http://tourinform.hu and www.hungary.com. Other helpful sources are www.funzine.com, the online portion of the printed Funzine magazine that comes out every other week, listing current events and fun things to do. For relevant regional news, you can go to the Budapest Times online at www.budapesttimes.hu. For news that is sometimes irreverent, check out Caboodle's site, www.caboodle.hu. For information for gays and lesbians, join the Budapest Yahoo group by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Water -- You will see plenty of people drinking bottled water, but water from the faucet is completely safe to drink. It is just a matter of personal preference.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.